North Dakota 1st quarter taxable sales drop 33 percent

Staff Writer
Devils Lake Journal

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A sustained slump in crude and farm commodity prices has pushed North Dakota's economy back to the level it was before the oil boom, the state tax commissioner said Tuesday.

Ryan Rauschenberger said the state recorded $3.8 billion in taxable sales and purchases during January, February and March, a 33 percent decrease from a record $5.8 billion for the same period a year ago. The impact, he said, is a return to the "pre-oil boom economy."

North Dakota's taxable sales and purchases are a key indicator of economic activity in the state. The first quarter results released Tuesday follow an economic slowdown in North Dakota that began more than a year ago and is affecting communities far from the oil patch in the western part of the state.

North Dakota's taxable sales and purchases decreased nearly 19 percent in 2015 to $22.9 billion. Taxable sales and purchase in the prior year were a record $28.2 billion.

"The first quarter of last year was really our last strong quarter," Rauschenberger said.

Data show only three of the North Dakota's 15 economic sectors grew during the first quarter of this year. North Dakota's mining and oil extraction sector had the biggest drop for the quarter, with a $716 million decrease.

The retail trade sector is most often a measure of consumer confidence. That sector decreased $128.4 million, or 8.9 percent for the quarter.

"I don't think anybody saw this big of a drop coming," Mike Rud, president of the North Dakota Retail Association, said of the state's declining taxable sales and purchases. "We just have tighten our belts when times get tough and that's the phase we're going through right now.

"We'll find a way to work through it," he said. "I don't have anyone calling my office pushing the panic button yet."

Only 12 of North Dakota's 53 counties had growth in taxable sales and purchases during the quarter.

Williston, in the heart of the oil patch, had been leading North Dakota in taxable sales and purchases since 2011, when it surpassed the state's biggest city of Fargo. Williston took in $269.8 million in taxable sales and purchases for the quarter, which trailed the $557 million that Fargo collected.

Williston's taxable sales and purchases saw the biggest drop of the quarter at about $432 million, or 61 percent, data show.

Fargo had a 3.9 percent drop for the quarter, while Bismarck's taxable sales and purchases fell 9 percent. Grand Forks dropped only 1.3 percent, while Minot, on the edge of North Dakota's oil patch, dropped 32.8 percent.